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Three-terminal energy harvester with coupled quantum dots


Rectification of thermal fluctuations in mesoscopic conductors is the key idea behind recent attempts to build nanoscale thermoelectric energy harvesters to convert heat into useful electric power1,2,3. So far, most concepts have made use of the Seebeck effect in a two-terminal geometry4,5,6,7,8, where heat and charge are both carried by the same particles. Here, we experimentally demonstrate the working principle of a new kind of energy harvester, proposed recently9, using two capacitively coupled quantum dots. We show that, due to the novel three-terminal design of our device, which spatially separates the heat reservoir from the conductor circuit, the directions of charge and heat flow become decoupled. This enables us to manipulate the direction of the generated charge current by means of external gate voltages while leaving the direction of heat flow unaffected. Our results pave the way for a new generation of multi-terminal nanoscale heat engines.

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Figure 1: Operating principle of the energy harvester.
Figure 2: Energy harvester device layout and characterization.
Figure 3: 2f current in reservoir R (IR) for configuration A in the vicinity of a TP pair.
Figure 4: 2f current in reservoir R (IR) for various Λ.

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The authors thank M. Büttiker for drawing our attention to the subject. The authors also thank C. Thienel for discussions and L. Maier for help with device fabrication. This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft via SPP1386, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Spanish MICINN Juan de la Cierva programme and MAT2014-58241-P, COST Action MP1209.

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H.T., H.B. and L.W.M. designed the experiment. C.H. and W.H. provided the wafer material. F.A. fabricated the sample. H.T. and F.A. conducted the measurements. R.S. and B.S. performed the model calculations. All authors discussed the results. H.T., B.S., R.S., H.B. and L.W.M. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Holger Thierschmann or Laurens W. Molenkamp.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Thierschmann, H., Sánchez, R., Sothmann, B. et al. Three-terminal energy harvester with coupled quantum dots. Nature Nanotech 10, 854–858 (2015).

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